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Disciplining Older Children

Big-Kid Discipline

Just because your child is tall enough to look you in the eye doesn’t mean your job is over when it comes to discipline. Given the risks to teenagers’ safety, health, and future success, discipline is, if anything, more important than ever. That said, you’re going to have to adapt your tools to the job at hand.

Many of the same tools you used for younger children still work. There’s more room than ever, for example, to model appropriate behavior.

  • Praise remains a powerful tool; your kid may duck down in the car when you drive past the mall, but she still wants your affection and approval.
  • Actively ignoring remains a useful tactic; more than ever she wants to be heard, but for you to listen she’ll have to speak respectfully.
  • Even time-outs can evolve into the teen years. You might point out that your teen is upset and needs some time to gather herself. Suggest 15 or 20 minutes of time to calm down so the 2 of you can resume a more constructive conversation.
  • Your adolescent can choose between various methods of sulking, from drawing to playing guitar to surfing the Internet, as long as she isn’t posting unflattering pictures of you.


Natural and logical consequences remain useful as well. The natural consequence of not studying, for example, is to make a lousy grade. The logical consequence of making lousy grades may be to lose video game privileges for the next grading period. Loss of privileges may include use of the car, time spent with friends, or shopping opportunities. You also have the option of adding household responsibilities

One advantage of having a teenager is that your child can take an active role in determining what the consequences of her actions should be. Go ahead and ask your teen to propose a consequence after she breaks an established rule in the house. You may find her sense of justice is actually harsher than your own! You may be the one arguing for a more lenient sentence. Because the consequence is her idea, she’s more likely to comply. You can also use this approach in establishing what the rules of the house should be. You might negotiate a list of chores, an academic goal, or a curfew that everyone finds satisfactory.

You’re transitioning your teen into the adult world, where we’re all bound by contracts, usually by mutual agreement, and where we often face consequences of our own making. Now you have a whole shed full of tools to help your child learn appropriate behavior, and you know how to use them, from the simple #2 Phillips screwdriver to the 12-point ⅜-inch left-handed gear-driven socket wrench. You can roll up your sleeves and set about your job as chief executive officer, at least with the advice and consent of your family’s board of directors.

David L. Hill, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2012)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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